Story War Game Review

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The Basics:

  • For ages 4 and up (publisher suggests 8+)
  • For 3 to 8 players
  • Variable game length

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Emotional Coping Skills
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Self-confidence
  • Imagination

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Pit your wit and imagination against your foes!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek mixed!
  • Child Geek rejected!

Overview

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it.” In this game, you’ll be asked to describe the impossible to battle the probable. You must talk fast and think faster as conditions change and new story elements are introduced. In the end, what will determine victory is not rational thinking, but creative logic.

Story War, designed by Tom McLeanBrad O’Farrell, and published by Cantrip Games, is comprised of 50 Warrior cards, 25 Item cards, and 25 Battlefield cards. Included with the game are a number of blank cards of each type, which allows players to add their own creative touch to the game. All the cards are durable and are as thick as your standard playing card. The artwork by Vondell Swain is simply outstanding and adds to the game’s level of enjoyment.

Game Set Up

To set up Story War, first separate each of the 3 card types into 3 different decks. Each deck has a different card backing color making this a quick and painless exercise. Give each deck a good shuffle and place them in the middle of the playing area, face-down, in a row.

Second, deal to each player 3 Warrior cards and 2 Item cards. This is the player’s hand. Players should keep the cards in their hand private.

Third, determine who will be the first “Judge” (a special player role that will rotate throughout the game).

Fourth, determine what type of game you want to play.

  • Solo (great for 3 – 4 players): NO TEAMS! Every player is out for themselves!
  • Teams (great for 5 – 8 players, as well as younger players): Teams are split evenly with players on the left of the Judge working against the players on the right of the Judge.

That’s it for game set up. Time to test your rapier like wit and creative mind.

Creative Combat

Story War is driven by the 3 different card types: Warriors, Items, and Battlefields.

Left to right:

Left to right: Warrior card, Item card, and Battlefield card

Story War is played in rounds. During each round, the Judge will draw 1 Battlefield card from the top of the Battlefield deck and reads it out loud to the other players. The Battlefield card is then placed in the middle of the playing area for all to review if needed.

Every player now looks through their hand and selects 1 Warrior card, placing it face-down in front of them. Each Warrior card has the name of the warrior being depicted, an illustration, and some flavor text. Warrior cards do not contain any number values or a description that suggests the warrior’s strengths and limitations. The players will have to supply these using their imagination.

Once all the players have played a Warrior card, they are flipped over and revealed. Chaos now ensues.

Story War is all about out talking and outwitting your opponent or opponents. If playing Solo, every opponent is an enemy. If playing Teams, players can work together. Either way, all players will be working with and building off the collective story. Each player will control their own Warrior, however, and describe how the warrior is acting and reacting to the story being told by the other players. Everything being said by the players is considered TRUE unless the Judge says otherwise. Additionally, a player can CHALLENGE an opponent which forces the Judge to state if a certain story element was successful.

For example…

Player A: “My Zombie runs forward and grabs the Yeti, chomping on its head!”

Player B: “Wait, wait, wait! Timeout! Judge, how can his zombie run at my yeti? It’s a shambling undead! I challenge!”

Judge: “Player A, would you care to explain?”

Player A: “Sure. It’s running like the zombies from the movie 28 Days Later.”

Judge: “Your zombie does not run and instead shambles towards the yeti giving the yeti more than enough time to react or escape by walking away at a brisk pace.”

Player A: “What? Why?”

Judge: “Twenty-Eight Days Later was NOT a zombie movie.”

During the course of the game, the Judge could also state that a warrior has been weakened. The Warrior card is rotated on its side to visually let all the players know that the warrior is now on one knee. If the warrior is weakened again or flat-out defeated, the Warrior card is flipped face-down.

At anytime during the round, players can place 1 Item card on their Warrior card, or if playing on Teams, only 1 Item per team. The Item cards, like the Warrior cards, do not have any number values or descriptions to suggest its strength and limitations. It’s simply a new item to include in the story.

This continues until the Judge says it should stop and each player (if playing Solo) or team is now allowed to make their last argument. Once final statements have been provided, the Judge determines victory by considering a number of key points: creativity and logic. However, logic can trump creativity as often as creativity trumps logic, as the Judge’s final choice is highly subjective.

The Judge then states which player or team wins the battle. The losing team or players discard their Warrior cards, all players discard their played Item cards, and the Battlefield card is discarded by the Judge. The winning team keeps their surviving Warrior cards in a separate pile which will count as victory points.

Finally, everyone now draws a new Warrior card and a new Item card (but only if they played an Item card). A player’s hand must never contain anymore than 3 Warriors and 2 Item cards at the end of the round.

A new round now begins with the player to the Judges’s left becoming the new round’s Judge.

Ending the Story

The game continues until every player has had a chance to be the Judge at least twice when playing Solo or once when playing with teams. The player or players with the most victory points (1 victory point per collected Warrior card) are the winners.

To learn more about Story War, visit the game’s web page. You can also download a free print-n-plan version of the game.

Prediction

I played a similar game to Story War when I was a Child Geek. It was titled Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game, and gads was it a mixed bag.The game itself was well designed, but the game HEAVILY depended on the players. If the players didn’t bring their imagination or energy to the table, the game flopped hard. So painful and negative was my experience that I didn’t attempt Storytelling games again until I was introduced to Dixit. Dixit, despite being a game that depended greatly on a player’s level of creativity, had structure and well-defined rules that helped players know their boundaries. Oftentimes, knowing what you can and cannot do is exactly what a player needs to know in order to push their creative limits.

Story War sounds like the love child of Once Upon a Time and Dixit. Players have no upper limits, but the Judge role can quickly determine what can or cannot be done. However, the game’s level of excitement and creativity is completely based on the group’s energy and willingness to participate. This makes me worry.

So let’s say that all the players bring their “A Game” and have unlimited energy to use during the playing sessions. If so, I don’t see any reason why Story War will be rejected by the Child Geeks, but I see it getting no more than a mixed endorsement at best. Players will argue, interrupt each other, and that can be very frustrating. Younger Child Geeks might get drowned out by the noise and some arguments might end in temper tantrums. The Parent Geeks will most likely do what they can to stem the tide of chaos with their families and the games with their peers should be a great deal less loud. But I don’t know if that means they will be more or less fun as a result. For the Gamer Geeks, it’s really going to depend on the mood they are in. If I don’t time it right, they’ll burn this game before it’s even finished being played.

You can’t really teach Story War. It’s a game that must be experienced in real-time to understand it fully. I suggest you simply get into the game after a brief explanation. The owner of the game should be the first Judge and I strongly suggest that players take their time explaining the actions and the situations in the shared story. Do not rush it. Players need to feel comfortable to play Story War. If they don’t, they’ll hate it and most likely you for a short amount of time. Note that there is text in the game (titles of cards and descriptions), but none of that is really necessary to play the game. You can play Story War with Child Geeks who cannot read yet, but those who can read must not base any arguments off of flavor text. To do otherwise would be unfair.

And so, after teaching the game to my three little geeks, I asked them their thoughts on Story War so far.

“I like it! I can do anything I want? That’s awesome!” ~ Liam (age 9)

“Are there robots and monsters in this game? I’m going to kick some butt!” ~ Nyhus (age 6)

“Oh, yeah! Let’s fight, baby!” ~ Ronan (age 4)

Let’s have a creative battle of wit and see if we all come out feeling like winners!

Final Word

Story War bombed with the Child Geeks. I only count negative votes if the Child Geeks are within the game’s recommended age range, and with such a low recommended age, almost all the Child Geek votes counted. The younger Child Geeks became increasingly disappointed and aggravated with each other and the game. While the initial levels of energy were high, as was the excitement, both quickly spiraled downward and the rounds became shouting matches versus creative debates. The older Child Geeks were able to maintain a loose semblance of good sportsmanship, but not fully. Child Geeks started saying they “hated the game” and other players. Some also claimed that the Judges were playing favorites. In fact, the only time Story War was well received by all the Child Geeks was when they weren’t playing the game. They very much enjoyed just looking through the cards, laughing at the little jokes, and sharing them with their friends. And, of course, they loved being the Judges. When the votes came in, Story War did not do well, which leads me to believe that this game is best played with a more mature audience.

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My little geeks passionately debate the battle while my dog quietly observes the proceedings…

The Parent Geeks, despite being the “mature audience”, thought Story War was a mixed bag. They enjoyed the concept, but found its delivery to be lacking. According to one Parent Geek, “This is a really great idea and I think it would be awesome as a creative writing or drama class exercise. But as a game? No, I don’t think so.” Another Parent Geek disagreed and said, “What I like about this game is the freedom it gives you to challenge opponents on a different level then most games provide. I find that to be really refreshing and fun!” Again, I observed that the game’s level of endorsement was based on the group’s level of energy. For those Parent Geeks who had fun with the game, they gave Story War high marks and their vote for approval. The Parent Geeks who did not oftentimes were confused with the rules, got lost in the arguments, and felt that the game was draining.

The Gamer Geeks played the game, argued like asses, and rejected it. While their arguments were absurd and everyone apparently had fun, the game was not considered to be a good one by the gamer elitists. When I asked why, one Gamer Geek responded by saying, “This game is way too subjective and too chaotic in its delivery. It’s an argument in a box that no one can win twice.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I like the artwork and the pop-culture references are great, but all that will get old pretty fast.” None of the Gamer Geeks would say Story War was a “bad game”, but they all agreed it was a “game that is best played with people you love and hate equally.” Not sure what to do with that, but there you go.

Story War is not so much a game as it is an exercise in creative debate. I like that, but I do not care for how the game goes about it. It’s too chaotic and loud at times. Every game is different and what really makes or breaks the fun are the players. If the group enjoys chaos, debating, creative arguing, and shouting at each other, you’ve got yourself a wonderful time. But that kind of group dynamics only exists with people who know each other very well or are highly dysfunctional. I’m surprised Story War didn’t do better with the Gamer Geeks as the game sounds like a good fit.

Regardless, I believe the game is one that will  leave you feeling very happy or very frustrated. Do give it a try as there are not many games like Story War available.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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